Shark Attack: CITES to the Rescue!

I recently came across a shocking statistic, thanks to an article and graphic from Joe Chernov

On a peak year, 12 people are killed in a year by sharks.

On average 12 sharks are killed every second by humans.

Amounting to a shocking 100 million sharks per year.

After further investigation, I found that estimates range from 60 million to 270 million. In comparison to just 12 human deaths in 2012, and zero fatal victims in 2011, the statistics speak for themselves. If we factor in that sharks are simply acting out of instinct, whereas we are acting out of vanity and greed, it’s easy to see who is the real victim here (Huffington Post, 2013).

Sharks products are used for cooking, medicinal supplements and beauty products, though substitutes exist. The biggest demand for shark products come from the notorious shark fin soup, a delicacy in China, which has unintentionally encouraged a practice known as finning, where sharks are thrown back into the ocean alive after having their fins cut off (Conrad, 2012).

Though some sharks that end up on the market are by-catch, with prices up to € 300 per kilo of processed fins, the shark industry has become very lucrative, encouraging fisherman to target certain species. If we consider revenues derived from the sale of shark products, the margins are even higher, creating even more perilous circumstances for these sharks (Fowler and Fordham, 2010).

And all this regardless of the of the fact that several shark species are covered under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). These species are listed as Appendix II species, which does not prohibit trade entirely, however they are considered threatened with extinction unless trade of such species is subject to strict regulation.

CITES, which came into being in 1975, provides a framework for the control of trade of certain species depending on the species’ vulnerability, and whose rules are non-voluntary for parties who have ratified the agreement, however each member nation in responsible for incorporating CITES decisions into their national level legal systems.

Under the CITES rules, any Appendix II species intended for export must be accompanied by a permit verifying that sustainable practices were used in obtaining the specimen. While importing these products does not require any paperwork, it is the responsibility of countries receiving these goods to ensure that the correct steps have been taken, and all the necessary permissions have been obtained. Non-compliance of the part of any Party, or insufficient effort can be met with sanctions (Greenpeace, 2013).

After the 2013 CITES Conference of Parties, which meets every three years, five more species of shark were added to Appendix II. With the two other species of shark added to the list in 2003, the total is now seven, and effective as of September of this year all Parties must have in place all the necessary mechanisms to tighten their control over the the trade of these species of sharks (McGrath, 2013).

The question is, have we waited too long to admit that these ‘monsters’ need protection from us? Demand for shark products began to rise in the late 1970s, and overfishing, in combination with slow reproductive rates have caused a steep decline in shark populations (EXAMPLE). Due to the nature’s intricacies, the integrity of the ocean’s ecosystem would be affected by the elimination of a high ranking predator, which in turn would cause a ripple effect, causing changes in other marine, plant, and eventually terrestrial populations.

Regardless of their reputation, or the fact that they must compete with adorable creatures like these for public attention, the bottom line is that they need us, and we need them, and in September 2014 we will see the results of the latest CITES decision put into action (or not), in order to protect them.




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